By Regina Nuzzo
Kara in the Kitchen
Six years ago, Kara Amey couldn’t eat a bite during treatment for brain cancer, but now she’s cooking up a storm
By Regina Nuzzo
Wackiness works for Kara. Though she has the ethereal looks of a storybook angel—big sky-blue eyes, fine golden hair, delicate ivory skin—she can easily act like a charming goofball. At Camp Fantastic, a summer program for child and teen cancer survivors, she enthusiastically leads younger kids in improvised spirit songs and chants. On Bonkers Day, they all wear clothes backward and upside down. Last year she found herself in the camp talent show sporting a floppy hat and feather boa and singing a bebop version of “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog.” “It was a wild bunch of kids,” Kara says with a laugh. “It was so fun.”
This year she’ll appear in two plays at the Lab School of Washington, where she is a sophomore. She plays a bustling Southern maid in You Can’t Take It With You and stars as a wealthy socialite in the Marx Brothers’ screwball comedy Animal Crackers. Like any skilled actress, she has a nuanced view of her character. “I’m not stupid at all but just very clueless,” she says of her starring role as Mrs. Rittenhouse. “I’m a good person but very oblivious to my surroundings.”
She shows similar insight related to real-life characters. She understands, for instance, how some kids could unthinkingly slap a hurtful label onto cancer survivors. “It’s not in a rude way usually,” she explains. “But when a person has really short hair or is bald, that’s just how you’re going to remember her: ‘Oh, that’s the cancer girl.’ ” Still it’s nice when she’s able to be “just Kara,” she says.
Yet Kara is not one to grab the spotlight. She raves, for instance, about her “great, great, great, great” debate club teammates and plays down her own role in their recent debate contest win. And Kara is quick to mention her collaborator on her public speaking projects: her mother, “who is the greatest writer in the world.” But other people notice her accomplishments. “Kara is one of those remarkable people who truly takes no credit herself,” Howard says. “She always says it’s due to everybody else, and the truth is that’s not so.”
She is not one to worry too much, either. Her family still tells the story of the time Kara and her mother visited her neurosurgeon for a follow-up appointment to learn whether her cancer had returned. Gary Magram, now the medical director of neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital Central California, in Madera, projected MRI images of Kara’s brain and spine onto the wall and was about to interpret the results.
But suddenly the image of her own spine sparked Kara’s quirky curiosity, and she interrupted. “Dr. Magram, why don’t humans have tails?” she asked. Soon Magram and Kara were deep in a conversation about embryonic biology. Meanwhile her mother waited, astonished at Kara’s question and impatient for the results. Kara noticed her anxiety. “Aw, don’t worry, Mom. I don’t have any symptoms,” she said. “I’m good. I’m fine.” And she was.